ROLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM
After establishing the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) as a subsidiary body of ECOSOC in 1992, the GA has adopted more than 10 resolutions on science and technology for development. Since 2000, this item has been fully included in the agenda of the GA and debated on a biannual basis. The CSTD is mandated to report on a yearly basis to ECOSOC and regularly submits draft resolutions for review and adoption by the Council. The 16th session of the Commission concluded in June 2013 and its outcome documents focused on two priority themes: science, technology and innovation for sustainable cities and peri-urban communities; and Internet broadband for an inclusive digital society.
The draft resolution presented for adoption by ECOSOC thus recommended stronger collaborations between public and private actors at the local level, and between municipalities and local governments at the national, regional and global levels. The Commission also encouraged the use of ICTs to improve the infrastructures of cities and to evaluate the future needs of urban populations, in terms of water and sanitation, energy, housing and transports, through simulation tools.
As the primary organ of the UN responsible for social, economic and environmental issues, ECOSOC has consequently adopted over the years a series of resolutions on science and technology for development. Those resolutions address a different issue every year, corresponding to the agenda of CSTD, and choose a different angle to promote the inclusion of science and technology within development policies, at the national, regional and global levels. ECOSOC also acts as a coordinating body and presents, through those resolutions, several recommendations to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which is acting as the secretariat of CSTD.
More recently, the Council has placed particular attention to STI through the work of its Annual Ministerial Review. For this purpose, the UN Secretary-General produced a comprehensive report on “Science, technology and innovation, and the potential of culture, for promoting sustainable development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” aggregating inputs and reviews from a large number of UN bodies and regional commissions. As part of the preparatory work for the 2013 AMR, ECOSOC has organized regional consultations in Western Asia, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and Europe, in collaboration with the concerned UN regional commissions and other bodies. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are thus actively involved as partners in the consultations coordinated by ECOSOC.
TECHNOLOGICAL LEARNING AND INNOVATION CAPACITY
The technological challenge and global public goods
In the MDGs, issues of science and technology have focused predominantly on access to essential medicines (particularly for the treatment of HIV/AIDS) and on internet connectivity and the related spread of communication technologies (ICTs). The favoured approach has been through needs assessment and targeted capacity building. However, delivering on the full range of amenities which underpin the MDG agenda, including, inter alia, environmental protection, the containment of health epidemics, mitigating climate change, requires access to a range of appropriate technologies. Much of the required technology is already available in the public domain but accessing and linking them to the required knowledge and skills within countries is neither automatic nor costless. It calls for investments in dynamic capabilities, particularly those that shape the ability of national stakeholders to uptake and absorb technologies and make improvements in line with local circumstances. This is not a one-way process. Some level of technological capabilities in countries is critical to ensure the provision of these amenities to all. At the same time, the critical importance of such amenities spans beyond individual countries or regions. In such a case, the international community as such, has a collective responsibility to ensure the provision of these goods. Within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the new Technology Mechanism established by the Cancun Agreements in December 2010 represents a move towards a more ‘dynamic’ arrangement by fostering public-private partnerships; promoting innovation; catalyzing the use of technology road maps or action plans; mobilizing national, regional and international technology centres and network; and facilitating joint R&D activities.
Innovation and Growth: Value Creation
In addition to its role in providing global public goods, science, technology and innovation (STI) serves as a crucial driver of rising prosperity and improved national competitiveness. However, because technological knowledge and skills are cumulative, first mover advantages have created a very uneven global landscape. Connecting local technological needs to international technological opportunities is a particular challenge for many developing countries. A well functioning STI ecosystem needs to include, inter alia, political stability and well-functioning institutions, an educated workforce; sound research and education infrastructure and linkages between public and private innovation actors; enterprises committed to research and development; as well as a balanced intellectual property rights (IPRs) framework.
Given that knowledge exhibits several properties of a public good, there is a persistent danger of underinvestment, and policymakers have increasingly sought to improve the incentives to create and transfer knowledge from publicly funded research to enterprises, thereby reinforcing the impact of that research on innovation capacity. But in addition to national strategies, regional and international frameworks including the UN and its agencies, funds and programmes must respond in new ways to ensure that innovation is integrated into national development priorities, particularly in least developed countries (LDCs), where the technological divide is greatest. These varied responses are required because STI ecosystems have become more complex and are now built on a mixture of collaboration and competition involving market incentives but also private and public partnerships across borders. Intellectual property is an important way of rewarding the commercialization of innovation which underpins growth and development, as well as promoting the disclosure and dissemination of technological information. It is as such a key element of the ecosystem. But it is not an end in itself.
Commitment to the protection of intellectual property through cooperation among states should be coupled with a commitment to ensuring that all countries are able to benefit from the use of intellectual property rights for economic, social and cultural development. Finding the right balance between accessibility and reward (for creativity and innovation) remains a fundamental challenge in building inclusive and sustainable development paths. Given that appropriate intellectual property policies are context specific there is also a need to ensure that, for those countries that request it, appropriate technical assistance is available to make most effective use of the IP system, especially in order to be able to foster national developmental goals.
Technology and Innovation for Catch-up Growth
Technological change, particularly in developing countries, is not only about innovating at the frontier, but also about adapting existing products and processes to achieve higher levels of productivity as applicable to their local contexts. In this process, the ability of local firms and enterprises to access technological know-how is fundamental to shaping their ability to provide products and services, both of the kind that are essential to improve living standards, and that could also promote growth and competitiveness. This requires investment not only in higher value manufacturing industries but also into sectors that contribute to broader public policy goals (such as health, agriculture, nutrition and environment) as well as across a range of activities that support overall development, including also marketing, management and financial services. Such investments, over a period of time, help to increase absorptive capacity and the ability to adapt and apply existing technologies, thereby leading to a gradual increase in productivity and social welfare.
Knowledge accumulation in all countries depends on steady investments to increase science education as well as to improve the STI policy environment to foster endogenous innovations, through all means of learning, including research and development. Some lessons stand out in this regard. First, incorporating science education in the curricula from primary and high school levels to the encouragement of research poles around existing universities is one key step. Second, partnerships with university research institutes and industry will be a key driver of improving the overall ecosystem making it attractive for human skills to return, including the return of skilled labour from developed to developing countries. Third, broadening the culture of science, technology and innovation is also important. Fourth, science and technology must be accessible to all levels of learning, including to the public through the media to show how research can drive high technology innovation and wealth creation. Finally, knowledge sharing both nationally and internationally is critical. This can be promoted through ICTs and broadband networks, particularly the application of technology-supported learning (eLearning), which can increase the effectiveness of education, including its outreach and awareness-raising.